How to Cook for a Legend

Sunday, March 20th, 2016

unspecified-1

One week ago I had the opportunity to cook for a legend. I had one weeks notice. When I heard that Jacques Pépin was coming to Cumberland Island for a visit I was thrilled and focused. The big question was what would the menu be?

When cooking for a legend, how do you write a menu? In a world of 20 course tasting menus, avant-garde plating, and foraging for rare ingredients it can be overwhelming for me as a Chef to focus on how to create a memorable meal. How do we define good food in our culture? Do the best restaurants have to be the most expensive, the most exclusive mausoleums that suspend the reality of what food is? I think not. The older I get, the more confident I become with my cooking, and I realize that so much of my industry relies on smoke and mirrors. The best food, most often times, is the simplest food. Good ingredients, good technique, and a sense of place are the key components for the best restaurants. Food is welcoming and nourishing.

In writing the menu I knew right of the bat what the focal point would be, chicken thighs. I wanted to cook for Jacques Pépin what I would cook for friends and family. The type of food I wish I could find in more restaurants. I knew the best way for me to prepare for this meal was to not over think the menu. So I went with what was in season and what was fresh out of the garden. To cook such a straight- forward meal for a legend comes down to the details.

 

Lunch for Jacques Pépin

Roasted Chicken Thighs with braised hen-of-the-woods mushrooms, green garlic, and chervil

Roasted Baby Beet and Mokum Carrots with petit lettuces, sorrel, ice lettuce, and green goddess

Crispy Potatoes tossed in salsa verde and preserved lemon

Meyer Lemon Pudding Cakes with chamomile cream

unspecified-11unspecified-9

 

The menu was not finalized until the morning that I stepped into the kitchen on the day we would execute this lunch. To be honest, it was one of the most focused services I had ever lead. The meal was served on large platters, family style. Dessert was plated individually. We cooked for Jacques Pepin, his lovely wife Gloria, and his close friend and photographer Tom Hopkins and his wife Christine Hopkins.

At the end of the meal, I was invited to sit down at the table and have a glass of wine. The words exchanged at that table will forever impact me. Jacques Pépin was truly complementary of the meal and went so far as to relate my cooking to that of his mothers and aunts. For me, there is no greater compliment.

The world of the Chef is crazy. We work insane hours under high stress and intense heat. Often times there is little to no balance for personal time and family. But for those of us that chose this path, and stick with it through the success and the failures, there are great rewards and no reward is greater than to be able to do what we love, and have it be appreciated and understood.

There is no doubt, that cooking for Jacques Pépin was and will always be a landmark moment in my career.

unspecified-3

Thank you to Ben Wheatley, Alejandro Tamez, Alberto Gonzalez, and Christopher Becerra for helping to execute this memorable meal. And thank you to Tom Hopkins for documenting the afternoon and sharing these beautiful photos with us.

After the lunch we hosted I had a chance to watch a great interview of Jacques Pépin by Anthony Bourdain, click on the link below to watch.

Anthony Bourdain interviews Jacques Pepin

unspecified-5 unspecified-13

The Nacho Challenge

Thursday, March 3rd, 2016

IMG_4847

I like to think that I am a healthy eater. As a Chef I eat a lot of different things through the course of the day, so I try to keep my meals simple. Roasted vegetable, whole grains, fresh fruits, big salads… you get the picture. I also like to think that this allows me two big rewards.

  1. To eat anything I want when I travel.
  2. To indulge a little here and there.

This week is about number two. Indulgence. I am sorry to open a post about eating nachos with how I like to eat healthy foods, but I needed to justify this weeks craving. I wanted to create awesome nachos. It was as simple as that.

So here we go. Below I share a recipe, of sorts. I will outline what I put on my nachos, and how to make some of the toppings, but the rest is up to you. Build the nachos the way you want to. Nachos are not nearly as fun if you are following a recipe. I would love to hear more about what you like to put on your nachos!

 

My Best Ever Nachos

Toppings:IMG_4822
homemade chips,
santa maria piquinto beans,
chipotle beer cheese,
pico de gallo,
hot sauce spiked sour cream,
avocado,
radish,
marinated cabbage,
chopped cilantro

Homemade Chips

15 corn tortillas (I use El Milagro)
4 cups of neutral cooking oil (corn, canola, etc.)

Cut and quarter the corn tortillas. Fill a medium pot with 4 cups of cooking oil. The amount of oil will depend on the size of your pot. Make sure you do not fill your pot more than half way full. Heat oil to 325 over medium heat. Fry your tortillas in small batches. Gently lower the tortillas into the oil. Cook for about 2 minutes, or until the chips are golden and crunchy. Use a slotted spoon to remove from the oil and lay on a plate lined with a paper towel. Lightly season with kosher salt.

Hot Sauce Spiked Sour Cream

1 cup sour cream
4 teaspoons hot sauce (I use Cholula)
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon lime juice
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin

Add all ingredients to a bowl. Stir to fully mix. Can be saved in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

Marinated Cabbage

4 cups finely shredded green cabbage
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon cilantro, roughly chopped
juice of 1 lime

Mix all ingredients in a bowl. Use the same day it is made.

Chipotle Beer Cheese

1 cup beer ( I like Pacifico)
1/2 cup whole milk
1 teaspoon cornstarch
8 oz. grated Cheddar cheese
4 oz. grated Monterey Jack cheese
2 chipotles in adobo, finely chopped
pinch of salt

Bring the beer and milk to a simmer together in a small pot over medium heat. Add 1 tablespoon of water to the cornstarch to form a slurry and add to the beer/milk mixture. Remove pot from heat and begin whisking in the cheese slowly. When all the cheese is incorporated add in the chopped chipotles and salt. Taste and adjust with more salt or chipotle to your liking.